Thursday, August 9, 2012

Send In The Clones

A couple months ago, after much debate, I made the decision to phone in a cancellation order on my cable TV service. That cancellation took effect a few weeks ago, so I am now without TV reception whatsoever. Fact is, I haven't liked what TV has offered for many years now, so I really couldn't justify paying the exorbitant monthly fee for it anymore. There are numerous reasons as to why I no longer enjoy TV, but for now I'm just going to specify one of them. (With more rants to undoubtedly follow!)

Take a look at the DVD cover shots I've posted above of a cross sampling of several current TV dramas. In my opinion, based on these cast pics, they might as well all be from the same show. Note the similarities throughout:

- The cast members are all rather stand-offish from each other, with no interaction among themselves. The poses are pretty stiff, straight up and down (with a few exceptions). They all seem very self aware, caught up in their own presumed self-importance, hands on the hips and crossed arms all geared to intimidate. These cast shots all remind me of the way contemporary rock bands pose in their publicity shots. Ugh!

- Aside from a central figure who may be an older character actor, the ensemble casts are all blandly attractive young hipsters, all obsessed with looking cool and aloof, the young men usually sporting several days of facial hair, the gals all trying to be as badass in attitude as their male counterparts. They all seem so devoid of individual personalities and mannerisms that they are pretty much indistinguishable from each other!

- None of these shows feature real colour. I've posted about this ugly trend of desaturation before, but it's become the default look for all television dramas as well as most dramatic films these days. They all use their silly computers to remove all the natural colour and give everything a blue-grey tinge or tamper with it in various other ways. Additionally, all these shows are as dark visually as they are in tone, with foreground characters kept mostly in shadow, yet being backlit with unpleasant florescent light or strong blue-grey window light. Despite some of these shows taking place in hot, sunny climes, the warm colours of a hot sunny day are never evident.

To be fair, the only one of these shows I've actually seen is Criminal Minds (and a bit of one episode of Warehouse 13, which was wretched), but I'm certain that I've probably witnessed bits and pieces of most of these and numerous other likeminded shows, so I really don't think I'm off-base with my overall assessments. In the case of these contemporary crime dramas like Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS, etc, they all seem to feature ever more grisly criminal acts shown in nauseating detail. The main characters are all just ciphers, not really personalities at all, every last one of them acting in the exact same manner in every episode, one by one putting in their two cents worth of analytical deduction in those roundtable scenes. And the overall tone of every episode seems to be one of unrelenting grimness!

In contrast, the crime dramas of the 60s and 70s that I grew up with, kept the violent imagery to a minimum, instead building the shows around the charismatic personalities of the detectives, and allowing some light, joyful moments to break up any chance of slipping into grim monotony. Detectives like Joe Mannix, Jim Rockford, and Lt. Columbo seemed far more human and likable than any of their counterparts today. And from the colour and lighting, you knew all three of these particular shows took place in sunny LA!

So, there you have it - the first of what may become several more rants about what television has deteriorated into. Sorry, but that's how this self-confessed curmudgeon feels about it.


Brett W. McCoy said...

My favorite of the past investigation shows is the original "Night Stalker" with Darren McGavin. He was dorky and annoying, but he certainly had personality!

Pete Emslie said...

Yes - Carl Kolchak was a great character! In his white suit and straw fedora he always looked like he was a typical newspaper reporter from the 1940s, completely out of step with the 70s, which is when the show was created and took place. I'm certain that it was the intent to make Kolchak look out of place and yearning for the glory days of journalism gone by.

Unknown said...

I like this post.

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

Gah! So very true! The lack of imagination and thought in those DVD covers is shameful.

That post on 'Whatever Happened to Color?' is one of your best.

If I may be so shameless; I had a similar complaint with cluttered ugly DVD covers:

Alex. G said...

Thank you Pete, thank you.
I was starting to wonder if I was the only one in this world who found shows like these unappealing.
True Blood and The Walking Dead were probably the only shows in ages that I was intrigued to check out. But what do you know, they even managed to make shows about vampires and zombies boring as heck.

What also bothers me is how a lot of the lead actors in these crimeshows tend to be generic prettyboys, using a hardboiled Eastwood-type character instead would've made them more interesting for me.

Paul McCall said...

Good for you Pete! My wife and I ditched our cable about 2 years ago and really haven't missed it since. The few cable shows we ant to continue watching are accessible on iTunes and the AppleTV or we wait for the library to get in a season DVD. We can get the major networks with rabbit ears but there's not much to watch there these days, as you've pointed out.
I almost ordered a season DVD of "Harry O" one of my well-remembered private eye shows with David Jansen but I'll wait to see if the library will get that one as well.
Antenna TV runs many 60s & 70s shows we are enjoying rewatching, such as It Takes a Thief, 12 O' Clock High and Combat.

Faff said...

You've hit on my major gripe with current tv shows which is the pervading air of joylessness, everything seems so one note. I could cope with the morbidity of the subject matter if there were ever a hint of humour. The only show that has come out of thye US in recent years that held any appeal for me was the excellent numb3rs. Fortunately Dr Who and the excellent Sherlock have kept me entertained in between times. At 47 I've little interest in watching pretty and glossy people in their twenties dominate every show.

Pete Emslie said...

Josh - I read your criticism of the "cluttered" posters and I agree wholeheartedly. Your analysis of how much better the poster was for the original "The Muppet Movie" was spot on. That image actually shows thoughtful visual composition, as well as giving a clue as to what the story is about, as you correctly pointed out. (And I'll bet you miss illustrated movie posters just as much as I do!)

I also share your pet peeve with the other trend of the characters set on stark white backgrounds. God, how I hate those things! I used to sneeringly refer to them as "Wal-Mart posters", as they had the same cheap, no-frills look as Wal-Mart store displays. Turns out that my nickname for them was more apt than I realized, as this article from the excellent Cinema Retro site a couple years ago points out that the poster designs for a lot of films had been influenced by the dictates of Wal-Mart so that the DVD boxes would all have that same stark, simple look on their shelves. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

Pete Emslie said...

Peter - Yes, all these current TV dramas do feel unrelentingly dark and joyless. The old classic detective shows had characters that you liked and cared about, and there was a warm humour component to all of them too, "The Rockford Files" being a prime example. In contrast, all of these current shows seem indistinguishable from each other - the characters devoid of warmth and individual personality.

Alberto said...

I was just noticing this going through the recommended Nexflix queue. What I find funny is that almost all the titles tell me nothing. Sanctuary, Warehouse, Haven, all sound like really hip bars. I should start a serious crime/hospital/cop/drama and call it something like "Refuge," "Sanctum," or "Shelter" (I'd say "House" but someone beat me to it). The pictures just make it harder, because it tells me nothing on what the show is about other than that it's serious... and most likely cool. Arms folded = cool.

(@ work, I might add more later. I look foward to your future rants!)

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

Thanks alot Pete! You bet I miss illustrated movie posters that took thought and creativity. I'd love to get some prints of posters like The Muppet Movie one.

Aargh!! That Star Trek sleeve is the pits!

lumographia said...

I generally stick to sitcoms, my favourites being 'The Big Bang Theory' and 'The Simpsons' (though I prefer the rougher, more human look of the first seasons as opposed to the machine like precision of later season's artwork), and reruns of '3rd Rock from the Sun'. Actually, I think I watch more reruns than modern shows, which might say something about the crudeness and other failings of more recent offerings. In complete agreement about the desaturation/blue filter issue. I'm an 80's child and grew up with bright, beautiful, vivid movies where film-makers were trying to out-do each other in achieving wonderful yet natural looking colours. Now it seems almost as if they're trying to transition back to monochrome.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

It breaks my heart to also see lousy Blu ray covers for older films. Look at the following cover for True Grit ! The Duke must be rolling in his grave !

Blech !

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Really, the only companies making great DVD and Blu ray covers are The Criterion Collection and Kino. The big studios just have monkeys using photoshop

Thad said...

Generally speaking, the situational comedy is the only thing that television has ever really done well. I have never been able to embrace a crime drama or western for television in the same way I could a movie of those particular genres. I always feel cheated. By comparison, I never feel gypped when watching I LOVE LUCY, DICK VAN DYKE, CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU?, GREEN ACRES, WKRP, SEINFELD, 30 ROCK, or PARKS & RECREATION.

MeTV in Buffalo is running all of the 'classic' 50s, 60s, and 70s TV shows, and I've got to say, with few exceptions, the shows aren't any better than what we have now.

I also don't really think that those older primetime shows were any more 'communal' than the best of the modern era. You may be repulsed by the modern sitcom, but you seem to forget that there were also people repulsed by the perceived crudeness of ALL IN THE FAMILY and M*A*S*H. Personally, I have little use for the former and find the latter exceptionally hysterical.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. But the majority of all TV is crap, regardless of the time period.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Thad, I am disturbed by your anti-All in the family stance.

Anywho,I am also a fan of British TV like Keeping Up Appearances and Poirot.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

I also have a weakness for Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Detective Goren kills me !

Emily Weber said...

I haven't had cable for a long time, either.
My favorite old shows were the Star Treks, Quantum Leap, and Early Edition. You know, where the characters actually cared about each other.

I miss color. ;_;

Vincent Bruni said...

The only show I watch on basic cable is Criminal Minds. Other than that there really isn't anything out there that I would sit through for an hour or two. For me, the best television has to offer is on Premium cable channels like HBO or AMC. That's where the good stuff is nowadays.

Martin Juneau said...

I agree that this DVD covers are awful and the coregraphy are looks the same in each of these. It makes a point what i like of crime dramas from the past decades is how intelligent and crafted the shows were. I can just hardly sit the modern ones except for some Law & Order. I know your aware of saturation color in most every medias who exist in the past years and that's the reason why i avoid the Blockbuster movies currently.